Episode 25 – The Four: Battle for Stardom

 

This episode: The Four: Battle for Stardom, Season 1, Eps. 1, 5-6.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next episode: Steven Seagal: Lawman, Season 1, Eps. 1-8.  Watch it on Hulu.

Mike wanted to stretch the podcast’s legs out and take on a singing competition and boy did he regret it!  Interspersed between his procession of grievances about the loud production, frenetic pace, bizarre voting system, and overbearing personalities, we discuss our experiences with previous singing shows and top 40 radio (or in Mike’s case, lack thereof) and add some comments on how this show could have been improved.  Mike then lays out his critique of music contests as meritocracy and we finish with an article from the Atlantic on how these shows interpret the American Dream and speculate as to why these shows continue to have such a voracious appeal even as they fail to launch their winners into the stratosphere of superstardom.

Show Notes and Links

1:32 / Mike has something to get off his chest

2:45 / Introducing the show officially

3:20 / Complaining about the episode length

4:03 / How the hell did this get renewed?  (Our Monica episode is here.)

4:33 / Starting with the structure of the show and how it compares to its more famous siblings (American Idol and The Voice)

6:50 / The strange audience voting scheme and the garish product placement (brought to you by T-Mobile)

7:30 / How the structure killed any sense of narrative build-up and continuity

9:12 / The contestant background narratives hit (or try to hit) all the familiar ‘beats’

10:22 / Segueing to the judges – DJ Khaled, Meghan Trainor, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, and Charlie Walk

11:15 / Discussing the #MeToo allegations surrounding Charlie Walk and how the show (didn’t) handle them

12:32 / Mike does his Fergie impression

13:04 / Describing the performance venue

14:18 / Talking about the semi-professional backgrounds of many of the contestants

17:16 / Returning to our personal impressions of the judges

17:55 / JS enjoyed some of the between-the-scenes banter

19:17 / JS’s power ranking of the judges, with Diddy as #1

20:22 / Mike thought the judges were the most annoying part of the show

21:06 / Discussing what JS liked about American Idol

23:03 / Investment in contest vs. music

24:45 / Different flavors of badness – Mike was surprised by how much he hated this one (he also runs down the cavalcade of lowlights from 42 Minutes past)

25:35 / The production style of this show is too ‘loud’ and ‘quick’

26:56 / Mike was irritated by how forced it was – the banter, the ‘trash talk’, the catch-phrases

27:35 / Dissecting the etymology of ‘Eat!’

28:15 / The airhorn was really annoying

28:49 / Mike continues on the grievance train by complaining about Charlie Walk’s namedropping

29:56 / Returning to the format: Mike found it irrational and capricious, particularly the voting system

32:16 / This show didn’t live up to its promise of genre diversity

33:35 / JS’s musical background

35:10 / Mike’s musical background (Mentions: last.fm and the podcasts Hit Parade and Switched on Pop)

37:14 / Mike’s complete lack of familiarity with commercial top 40 radio

38:10 / JS’s personal definition of pop music

39:49 / Mike adds his two cents

41:54 / What should pop music aim for?  Financial success or artistic value?

43:16 / Importance of concerts in post-Internet music economy

44:02 / Mike outs himself as an “insufferable elitist”

44:55 / We try out some constructive criticism

45:15 / JS’s expectations and idea for a different battle format

47:10 / Mike’s idea – have the contestants perform original material

48:28 / This show needed more musical diversity (Mike mentions Bon Iver)

49:42 / Original material as ‘leaning in’ to the semi-pro status of these artists

50:55 / This show as advertisement for hit songs and the careers of the judges

51:27 / Mike thought this would have been improved with different judges (obligatory Kanye West mention)

53:10 / Is this specific format salvageable?

54:56 / Mike’s critique of music contests (Mentions: Debris’ Static Disposal, William Hung, Kate Bush’s The Dreaming and Bound 2 from Kanye West’s Yeezus)

58:18 / JS pushes back on the critique, cites the cover of Creep as a contestant risk

1:00:20 / Mike points out that the unique contestants lost in the semifinals to more conventional singers

1:01:30 / Our article for this episode, from the Atlantic, Julie Beck’s “The Voice’s Empty Promise of the American Dream” (published March 28, 2017)

1:03:13 / The emphasis on American Dream as ‘superstardom’ particularly reflected in this show’s narrative

1:04:36 / Our current cultural obsession with seeking fame for purpose of being famous

1:05:20 / Reality TV as a pioneer of the ‘democratization of fame-seeking’ (Mentions; Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, YouTubers and Instagram models)

1:06:09 / How the music industry has shifted since American Idol’s debut – innovations in technology and distribution (Mentions: Soundcloud rap, XXXTentacion – this was recorded before his murder, Lil Uzi Vert.  The article Mike referenced on Spotify’s RapCaviar is here.)

1:08:35 / The persistence of the music contest’s appeal even after its relevance as tastemaker and gatekeeper has faded

1:09:46 / The importance of the success narrative to these shows’ appeal and why it doesn’t carry over after the cameras stop rolling

1:11:59 / Situating this into larger reality TV narratives, particularly in comparison to others we’ve watched (Kitchen Nightmares and Highway Thru Hell)

1:13:24 / Drilling down to the specific appeal of this show (as opposed to music contests in general) (Mentions: The X Factor, America’s Got Talent)

1:14:30 / Perhaps the short length and quick pace might have been a feature, not a bug to some audiences; Mike explains why we didn’t do The Voice

1:15:52 / Mike thought it was trying to be the ‘hipper’ version of American Idol, targeting younger and more diverse urban demographic

1:17:30 / Final thought: Mike won’t be checking out Season 2 (unless someone wants to send him money)

1:18:06 / JS’s blockbuster pick for the next episode

1:20:12 / The usual announcements: contact us, rate and review, and subscribe

1:20:47 / Bonus PSA: Check out the listener’s choice poll on our Facebook page

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Episode 24 – The Fashion Hero

 

This episode: The Fashion Hero, Season 1.  Watch it on Tubi TV.  Watch it on Amazon Prime Video.

Next episode: The Four: Battle for Stardom, Season 1, Eps. 1, 5-6.  Watch it on Hulu.

Mike has been talking about it for ages, but the day has finally arrived for our friend, Dave, to come back on and discuss the Amazon-produced reality TV fashion (anti?) competition show, The Fashion Hero (aka America’s Woke Top Model).

After breaking down the unique structure and format of the show and discussing the principal players, such as the host, judges, contestants, etc, we do a deep dive into the relationship between the show’s ideology and structure with a particular focus on both the unique nature of its blend between reality TV competition and a ‘social justice message’ (touching on the good and bad sides of ‘message television’) and how much of the social mediation in the show is shaped by said message.  Throughout it all, we continue to return to the question of whether this is the future paradigm of reality television or a failed experiment that is weighed down by its contradictions (egalitarianism vs. capitalism/competition, utopian harmony vs. conflict-driven entertainment).

Finally, we situate the show within the broader ‘meta-genre’ of reality TV as a form of ‘advertainment’ and the cultural context of changing political and cultural attitudes among millennial women, who constitute the target demographic for the sub-genre of fashion competition reality TV before ending by asking, “Is some level of cattiness and trashiness necessarily always a bad thing?” (Mike says no.)  We hope you enjoy this episode because this is definitely the most unique and interesting show we’ve reviewed for this podcast.

Show Notes and Links

1:12 / Our returning guest host, Dave (Episode 17 on Hell’s Satans is here)

2:01 / Introducing this month’s show

2:30 / The concept and format of the show – a modeling competition with a twist

3:48 / Examples of the activities performed on the show

6:00 / The activities were microcosms for the overall journey

6:57 / The unique structure of the ‘competition’

8:47 / How the lack of eliminations affected our view of the overall narrative

9:39 / Discussing our impressions of the host, Brooke Hogan, and how the role of the host differed in this show (Mike mentions Kate Moss)

11:48 / Talking about the four judges and their role in the show (Dave mentions Simon Cowell and Gordon Ramsay as contrasts; Mike mentions Top Chef)

15:24 / The familial atmosphere of the show was striking (Dave mentions The Voice)

16:38 / Segueing to our overall impressions of the contestants as a group

17:27 / A striking focus on the collective as opposed to the individual that separated this from other reality competition shows

18:52 / The diversity of the cast in terms of nationality was notable, especially in comparison to other reality shows

19:52 / Lots of contestants who are outside the mold in terms of body type and age (Mike also brings in a brief compare and contrast to Season 1 of the ur-text of reality TV fashion competitions, America’s Next Top Model)

21:55 / Discussing the finalists – Stacey, Tanashay, Heidi, and Revic – and their narratives of overcoming their insecurities and challenges

26:52 / Is there a difference in how we view male models as opposed to female models? Perhaps our broad lines of male attractiveness are more permissive, but our ideas of the ‘male model’ are narrow? (Mike mentions Calvin Klein underwear models)

28:10 / Discussing the worldview more explicitly – ‘democratization of beauty’

28:56 / Is there a tension between the show’s egalitarian ethos and the relationship of the fashion industry to capitalism, competition, etc?

31:03 / Mike makes a call-back to our first episode and compares the two shows in terms of the relationships they fostered between contestants

33:06 / This show really illustrated the level of control that the production team has in enforcing the ‘reality’ in reality TV

34:10 / Dave thought this show really stood out for having an explicit ideological agenda that is normally not found in reality TV

34:53 / The tension between the show’s positive tone and the goal of entertainment – it often went to sometimes comical lengths in order to build drama

36:18 / Talking about the sincerity of the show through the guests that were brought on

38:14 / Mike calls back to Survivor and observes how this show actually meets many of the conditions of the hypothetical ‘cooperation’ show he mentioned during the episode

39:17 / Introducing the article we read for this episode, “Reality TV as Advertainment” by June Deery, from Popular Communication, 2004

39:52 / The main points of the article – Reality TV as hyper-commercialized documentary, voyeurism, ‘hedonistic’ and ‘spartan’ reality TV, product placement

41:36 / Dave noticed this show rarely peered into people’s private rooms or treated the contestants as commodities – with one exception that we delve into (the discordant DQ moment)

44:35 / Briefly touching on Brooke’s freak-out (and its possible connection to the DQ moment?)

45:05 / How Mike thought this was similar to conventional reality TV – focus on the therapy of the self, advertising for products – but with an activist message (Mike mentions our last episode on Highway Thru Hell)

47:28 / Dave observes that in absence of antagonist characters, the antagonism derives from personal insecurities and societal prejudices that must be overcome

48:09 / Can utopian harmony be entertaining?  Particularly within the context of reality television?

49:52 / This show often changed the rules at the last second and staged weird ‘mock eliminations’ to generate drama

51:14 / Mike thought it funny that all the contestants leaned on reality TV clichés in their confessionals during the final week of nominations despite the competition not appearing all that intense

52:12 / How cooperation was baked into the judging criteria and contestants often acted anti-competitively

53:01 / Transitioning into the demographic appeal of the show – Mike discusses a Pew research poll on political affiliations that came out recently

53:53 / The conflict between the reliance on stereotypes in reality TV and the burgeoning cultural progressivism of the millennial women who are the chief audience for these shows

54:36 / This show fits well into the current cultural zeitgeist – Trump, #MeToo, etc.

55:26 / Is there a conflict between the utopian positivity of this show and the base entertainment value one expects from traditional reality TV?

57:39 / Dave’s chief complaint: the heavy-handed nature of the show’s message

58:43 / Are we more forgiving of the exaggerations and heavy-handedness in relentlessly cutthroat shows like Survivor? (Mike also makes a comparison to Monica the Medium in terms of both shows’ relentless positivity)

1:00:03 / What would our advice be to the producers for improvements going forward?

1:02:01 / How drama and personal conflict could be incorporated into the show without stepping too hard on its ideological message

1:02:56 / Introducing the idea of ‘friendly competition’ between judges a la The Voice

1:04:17 / Despite the flaws, the sincerity and positivity of the show was refreshing, particularly because it differed so much from what we’ve come to expect from other reality TV shows

1:04:48 / Is it still OK to crave the cattiness and trashiness of reality TV? (Mike, for one, was definitely craving it)

1:05:45 / This show did change how Mike viewed the possibilities of fashion

1:07:18 / Announcing the next episode

1:08:06 / The usual announcements: contact us, rate/review, and subscribe

Episode 12 – Keys to the VIP

 

This week’s discussion: Keys to the VIP, Season 2, Eps. 1-5.  Watch it on Tubi TV.

Next week’s discussion: Alaskan Bush People, Season 1.  Watch it on Hulu.

This week Mike and JS put on ten pounds of hair gel and don their fedoras and indoor-only sunglasses for some special VIP treatment, but Mike in particular is having regrets about what might have seemed like a good idea at the time (much like the women who gave these guys their numbers).

Nevertheless, there was much of interest to discuss.  We cover our usual topics: the show’s concept and our general impresssions, it’s authenticity (or lack thereof), and we revisit our beloved success/failure dichotomy to try and put our fingers on the show’s appeal.  However, we also discuss the show’s worldview about the relations between the sexes as well as its relation to the broader culture of pick-up artistry in general.  We particularly pay attention to some of the pick-up culture’s shaky intellectual arguments grounded in bogus notions of ‘neuro-linguistic programming’ and faux evolutionary psychology.  (WARNING: Foucault and chimpanzee sex both get mentioned prominently.)

[Also, as a postscript, Mike apologizes for the quality of a few of the sound clips.  One of the many terrible things about this show (and one that did not become apparent until post-production) was how fucking shitty the sound mixing was.  It’s almost as if even the producers of this trainwreck didn’t even care about it.]

Show Notes and Links

1:40 / Introducing this week’s show

2:20 / The concept of the show

5:08 / JS observes how mundane the intros were

8:09 / Discussing the four hosts – ‘the four corners of the male psyche’ (LOL)

10:02 / Sheldon did not seem to have a defined persona (the article Mike mentions is here)

11:20 / Mike criticizes the show for not having enough differentiation between the hosts

12:50 / Comparing the relative badness of this show to Monica the Medium

13:46 / Returning to the topic of differentiation and the show’s relation to pick-up artist culture

15:30 / Talking about the interludes and how the hosts’ ‘differences’ faded away

16:37 / The contestants for the show are also very similar (and all have dumb nicknames)

18:03 / JS talks about the episode with Mike the Magician and Hot Body Jason – ‘brains’ vs. ‘brawn’

21:00 / Mike agrees that this episode was more interesting, but thinks it still fits into the overall worldview of the show

21:33 / Mike talks about an episode that left a sour taste – ‘nice guy’ vs. ‘asshole’

23:18 / Segueing into the worldview of the show (and pick-up artistry in general)

24:31 / Talking about the idea of ‘negging

25:30 / JS did like the challenges that put the guys in a bind

26:02 / The perennial question – How real is all this?

26:33 / Mike kept seeing unsourced allegations of fakery, but no smoking gun (Wikipedia, IMDB)

27:18 / How did they get the audio to pick up so clearly?

28:10 / Not very many blurred faces in this show

29:07 / JS noticed the guys seem to be aware of the ‘hidden’ cameras

29:38 / Lots of women show up more than once – what are the odds?

31:05 / Mike was unconvinced by the kissing

32:08 / Talking about the evidence for some level of ‘authenticity’ (AMA, interview with Alen)

32:58 / Women may not be out-and-out confederates, but if they know the show is going on beforehand, how authentic are the actual reactions?

33:42 / Talking about how the multiple takes give the producers an opportunity to basically tell whatever story they want

36:40 / Mike’s theory of the week: Keys to the VIP as a Foucauldian educational institution (To be more clear, Mike was referring to Discipline and Punish, but Foucault also studied other things)

39:25 / Talking about the dated nature of pick-up culture and how this show was very much of its time; Mike mentions The Game

41:13 / Segueing into a discussion of pick-up artist culture more broadly

41:45 / Mike was talking about something like this    (He also mentions the vintage hosting service Geocities)  (the dumb website is here)

42:14 / Talking about all the dumb terms and acronyms (yes, they are all real) from the different ‘schools’ of pick-up artistry, such as Speed Seduction and the Mystery Method (Mike mentions the Konami Code)

43:59 / Discussing the influence of ‘neuro-linguistic programming’ (aka ‘the Force’)

45:53 / The Adorno quote is from aphorism 70 of Minima Moralia

46:19 / Why can’t horny women ‘Jedi Mind Trick’ hot guys into sleeping with them? (Discussing the assumptions of pick-up artist ideology)

47:44 / Mike makes a brief comparison between pick-up artistry and female-oriented cottage dating advice

48:21 / Even if this stuff worked 10 years ago, don’t you think women would have caught on to the dumb hats and canned lines?

49:04 / JS makes a ‘Devil’s Advocate’ argument for the value of pick-up artistry

50:05 / Talking about the ‘numbers game’ aspect of pick-up artistry, with a brief aside into the emergence of dating apps like Tinder and how they’ve changed dating culture

51:56 / What Mike thinks is actually behind pick-up artist philosophy (power not pleasure)

53:18 / Mike debunks the pop evolutionary psychology arguments underlying the philosophy (aka humans and other primates are not the same)

54:38 / Chimps and bonobos have entirely different social structures, despite being more genetically similar than either one is to humans

55:07 / A digression into chimp mating and the relation of sex to status in chimp society (Mike refers to the book The Origins of AIDS)

56:27 / Talking about the evolution of pick-up artistry over the last decade to its nastier current-day incarnations like The Red Pill and Gamergate

57:42 / Segueing into the appeal of the show

58:03 / Mike reads a quote from Alen on the show’s creation and JS responds

59:08 / Mike mentions another podcast that reviewed this show, Flight School Podcast (The specific episode is here)

59:40 / The show is not really about teaching people ‘what women want’, but is about reaffirming traditionally masculine worldviews

1:00:50 / Is this show about success or failure?  (We both come to the conclusion that it is ultimately about the latter)

1:02:57 / We never rooted for the contestants

1:03:25 / The educational emphasis of the show centers the narrative around failure

1:03:52 / Mike talks about how this show could maybe have been better (it takes a lot)

1:04:55 / A novel concept – have actual women on a show about impressing women

1:05:24 / The women in the show are always ‘targets’ and stereotypes

1:06:30 / Our final thoughts – Mike recommends only watching the goofy intros, JS puts in a word for Mike the Magician

1:07:46 / Introducing the next show (It can only go up from here)

1:08:38 / The usual announcements – Like our Facebook page and visit the website (Good job – you are here!) – Also: contact us, rate/review, and subscribe!

Episode 10 – Survivor: Borneo

 

This week’s discussion: Survivor, Season 1.  Watch it on Hulu.  Watch it with Amazon Prime Video.

Next week’s discussion: Monica the Medium, Season 1, Eps. 1-4.  Watch it on Hulu.

This week we celebrate our 10th episode with a revisit of one of JS’s ‘Reality TV First Loves’: the debut season of the granddaddy of reality TV competition – Survivor!  With Mike having never seen the show before and JS watching it for the first time since the show originally aired back in 2000, we discuss our impressions of the show and how it foreshadowed the explosion of reality TV to come as well as the significant ways in which it differs from the shows that came in its wake.  We then move into a discussion of the Orientalism of the show’s faux-tribalist aesthetic and locate it within a larger tradition of Western narratives of travel to exotic and deserted locales before finishing on a discussion of the show’s bleak view of human nature and society and the pros and cons of various reality TV competition models.

Show Notes and Links

2:30 / Belatedly introducing this week’s show

3:15 / The concept of Survivor

6:31 / Going further into the jury process (and the awkwardness)

7:48 / Moving on to the cast of characters

8:26 / Richard Hatch – the ‘villain’

9:24 / Bringing up the ‘alliance’

11:08 / The show’s treatment of Richard’s gay identity – a revealing time capsule into the early 2000s

13:30 / Kelly Wiglesworth – the ‘hero’ (?)

15:25 / A digression into age and sex (a disadvantage in physical challenges?)

16:50 / Sonja – the first elimination

17:39 / Rudy – a bit of a bigot, but an affable – and quotable –  bigot (Mike mentions Archie Bunker)

19:00 / Susan – the Wisconsin ‘redneck’

20:43 / We thought the show did a good job of putting together a cross-section of different social backgrounds

22:15 / Sean – the real villain

23:08 / Dirk – the religious archetype

25:00 / The importance of making friends and being helpful early on

25:45 / Weight and preparation

27:10 / The contestants on this show struck JS as being much more ‘innocent’ as opposed to ‘mercenary’

28:27 / The early innocence begins to fade as the show progresses

29:10 / Talking about how the formation of the alliance was much more spontaneous and contingent than Richard may have let on in his confessionals

30:47 / The emphasis on age and ‘generation gaps’ stuck out to Mike in comparison to other shows we’ve watched, which emphasize youth

31:52 / The enduring stereotypes of youth vs. experience

33:00 / JS doesn’t like the ‘mercenary’ aspect of reality TV, appreciated its relative absence in this show

34:36 / Stay tuned for future 42 Minutes coverage of Survivor

35:00 / Mike thinks the innocence and lack of careerism is a function of the show’s historical position as the birth of mass-market reality TV; JS agrees and thinks he might never enjoy another reality show like this one

36:07 / Mike takes a bold pro ‘fame whore’ position

36:20 / Talking about the continuities as well as the disjunctions in Survivor’s relation to future reality shows (product placement, leading questions, misleading, out-of-context soundbites)

37:45 / A possibly scripted moment?

38:57 / Mike loves the confessionals – whenever someone says ‘it’s not X’

39:31 / Moving back to the differences: the editing style and presentation

40:58 / Mike’s totally uninformed opinion – the influence of ‘MTV’ (and music videos) on the quick-cut montage editing and sound production of future reality shows

42:03 / The differing demographics of youth-oriented cable and mass-market broadcast television may have also played a role

42:18 / The ‘surprise factor’ of Survivor’s success – it was originally a summer slotted show

43:17 / The novelty factor of reality TV and over-explanation

44:20 / Did you know that ‘fire is life’? (and a laugh-out-loud moment in the rain)

45:00 / Jeff Probst, Shit-stirrer in Chief

45:47 / Segueing into the ‘Orientalist’ faux-primivitist aesthetic of the show

46:20 / Orientalism as mish-mash of loosely related Western stereotypes

48:08 / Talking about a revealing moment in the closed captioning (‘primal chanting’)

49:15 / The appeal of ‘the Other’ to Western audiences (How much does this contribute to the show’s success?)

50:57 / Mike thinks the show is carried by the format, compares to other competition shows (The Apprentice, Paris Hilton BFF)

51:57 / Mike thinks the importance of the tribal motif was to give the show a needed consistency

52:38 / JS clarifies his position on the relationship between the tribal motif and ‘exotic’ foreign locale to the show’s success

54:15 / Mike thinks that once the location was decided upon, it was only ‘natural’ given the worldview of reality TV, that the show would incorporate stereotyping

54:40 / JS locates the roots of this show and its aesthetic in the ‘Robinson Crusoe’ tradition of Western narratives

57:14 / Mike thought the one time where the local people are featured was interesting in comparison to a similar encounter we discussed during our Dual Survival episode

58:20 / JS thought it was odd that the local people are largely absent, but that it fits with the narrative the show is trying to sell us

59:15 / Discussing the show’s construction of a Hobbesian and Machiavellian ‘human nature’; Mike mentions Lord of the Flies and in-group favoritism

1:00:20 / A revealing quote from Richard shows how the scenario of the show differs from ‘real life’

1:01:05 / How differing incentives would have led to different behavior on the part of the contestants

1:01:45 / How the show’s view of ‘human nature’ relates to the show’s appeal; the show seems to have evolved to emphasize ‘villainy’ and ‘back-stabbing’

1:02:35 / The appeal of seeing the worst in people (J.G. Ballard quote)

1:03:15 / JS thinks the show’s appeal is double-sided; emphasizes both competition and cooperation, uplift and deceit

1:04:10 / The first season stuck out once again in terms of the ‘innocence’ of the contestants; perhaps could never be replicated

1:05:42 / Mike enjoyed the show, but wondered whether it was entirely successful in navigating the tightrope between authenticity, merit, and strategy

1:06:38 / What Mike thought was the fulcrum point of the show, after which the drama became a bit anticlimactic

1:07:33 / Discussing whether the format of the show could be tweaked and whether later shows had a more ‘level playing field’

1:09:08 / JS thinks the incentives of the show work best when the contestants are separated into tribes

1:10:20 / Mike goes back to an anecdote he forgot to mention about the first show we watched to demonstrate the importance of merit in reality TV competitions and how the competition can be less satisfying when the merit is absent

1:11:30 / Mike feels the show falls short when an alliance is so firmly in place that the competition aspect seems arbitrary

1:13:20 / Even though the alliance made things less dramatic, JS thought the novelty of seeing it come into formation was interesting in of itself

1:13:34 / More brainstorming of how the show’s format could be tweaked to increase the drama and merit

1:14:20 / The strengths and weaknesses of different competition models (group vote v. neutral arbiter)

1:15:15 / Announcing our next episode – in which Mike brings JS down

1:17:28 / Go vote in our Facebook poll! Jwoww & Snooki v. The Situation (You could be the deciding vote…since no one has voted in it yet)

1:18:45 / The announcements you know and love: contact us, rate us, and subscribe

 

Episode 4 – Paris Hilton’s My New BFF Dubai

 

This week’s discussion: Paris Hilton’s My New BFF Dubai, Eps. 1-3, 8-9.  Watch it on Tubi TV.

Next week’s discussion: Divorce Court, Season 17, Eps. 1-7.  Watch it on Hulu.

First of all, apologies for the slightly reduced level of audio quality on this episode.  JS was having difficulty hearing the microphone and Mike overcompensated by cranking up the gain – and forgetting to look at the test recording in Audacity (oops) – which led to a great deal of clipping and what ended up being a salvage project.  However, unlike the producers of the show we are reviewing this week, we didn’t just throw in the towel and say fuck it.  Instead, Mike worked up some elbow grease and tried his best to get this episode to an acceptable quality of audio fidelity, so hopefully the final product is at least somewhat tolerable.

As for the episode’s contents, we took a virtual trip to the United Arab Emirates for the last (and possibly saddest) installment of Paris Hilton’s My New BFF franchise.  After discussing the structure of the show and the wealthy and cosmopolitan (mostly) Middle Eastern contestants, we turn to the show’s tangled legal history and how it may or may not have led to its bottom of the barrel production quality.  We then analyze both sides of this rather ‘unique’ mashup, discussing both its representation of the Middle East, good and bad (but mostly bad), as well as the history and background of the show’s rather infamous host, Paris Hilton, and her seminal place in the history of reality TV and 21st century ‘celebutante’ culture.  Finally, we end with how this show may have actually held the promise of being something worthwhile, if only its host and production team had cared enough to film something beyond a glorified infomercial (or hell, even cared enough to hire a camera crew for an entire day of filming).

Show Notes and Links

1:39 / Introducing this week’s show

2:30 / The show’s high concept – which should be pretty self-explanatory (Paris Hilton quote)

3:15 / JS breaks down the particulars

4:34 / Mike sampled the entire BFF oeuvre

6:00 / The ‘little star’ aka the snitch

6:18 / This show is actually quite brilliant at getting these contestants to go at each other’s throats

6:45 / The show’s lexicon – ‘real and fake’, ‘hungry tigers’

8:26 / The ‘Real and Fake Challenge’ (Reality TV Ouroboros)

9:28 / Mike has a confession to make

10:03 / We begin discussing the contestants – mostly from Middle East and come from wealthy backgrounds

12:12 / Bassant – at least she’s honest

12:55 / Mike found these women to be pretty bland and interchangeable

13:24 / Amy – was not here to make friends

13:54 / Dina – Mike couldn’t figure out why the others hated her

14:46 / Reem – seemed to be most ‘traditional’ of the contestants

14:57 / Discussing the ‘cosmopolitan’ backgrounds of the contestants

16:33 / JS discusses the physicality of the contestants and how Branka and Reem departed from the mold

17:15 / Mike belatedly mentions what episodes we watched

18:30 / Reem stuck out to JS as someone who seemed more authentic than the others

19:35 / Mike breaks down the troubled legal history of the show – seems to explain a lot about it

20:58 / Why the hell weren’t the cameras in the house more often?  Lots of discussion in the show of contestants acting different on and off camera

23:19 / Talking about the INSANE level of product placement in this show – not just the Paris Hilton line, but other sponsors (the credits looked like a high school yearbook)

24:54 / Comparing Paris Hilton’s level of involvement to the other seasons of the show

26:28 / A brief digression into the font world

27:32 / Starting our discussion of the show’s ridiculous ‘1001 Arabian Nights’ stereotypes

29:05 / Edward Said’s Orientalism

29:18 / Part of the reason Mike picked this show (other than the absurdity) was an intellectual interest in cross-cultural contact

29:44 / Talking about the role of local authorities in the production of the show and how the show had to change to be compatible with local cultural mores (no alcohol or risqué clothing)

30:35 / Contrasting the Dubai version to the US version

31:06 / Mike talks about how his views on the often fraught relationship between Western and non-Western cultures have evolved since college, the book title he forgot is Modernity At Large

32:20 / Mike’s theory of why Reem was the winner

33:44 / JS hoped that this show would have more interaction between Paris Hilton and the broader Middle Eastern culture

35:21 / Paris is in less than half of each episode – mostly just shows up for challenges and eliminations

36:43 / Mike does praise the show in one respect – gives people a better view of Middle East beyond crude stereotypes of religious fanaticism

37:14 / Mike talks about his experiences with different types of Muslims in Kenya

39:25 / This show gives a view of Middle East that goes beyond a monochromatic depiction of war and suffering

40:14 / Shows the cosmopolitan side of Middle East: many contestants would fit right in to any city around the world

41:41 / The cosmopolitan emphasis is both a strength and weakness of the show

42:34 / Focusing on those in the Middle East who are ‘more like us’ might have been the only entry point for this show’s audience (and is also conveniently the target audience for Paris Hilton’s line)

43:34 / JS hoped the show would be more like ‘An Idiot Abroad

44:08 / This show does once poke fun at Western stereotypes even as it relies on them

45:32 / Paris Hilton’s background and career history

46:52 / The Simple Life

48:23 / Discussing the temporal specificity of her fame

48:58 / Paris Hilton as a seminal figure in reality TV

49:44 / Mike compares her rise and fall to the subprime housing boom (Hilton interview in GQ)

50:21 / ‘One Night in Paris (Hilton): Wealth, Celebrity, and the Politics of Humiliation

51:20 / Does her fame come from love or hate?  Who is doing the loving and hating?

52:41 / Trying to pin down her class appeal; Mike thinks she reminds him of (pre-politics) Trump

53:48 / JS argues that, at least in international terms, her appeal is to an upscale audience

54:50 / We stumble around in the dark trying to figure out where her merch is sold (Mike did post-podcast research: You can at least buy her fragrances at Walmart)

55:20 / Moving from humiliation to adulation and the cult of celebrity; this series represents that

57:20 / Paris Hilton as an icon for ‘new money’

57:35 / This show seemed a little North Korean – particularly with the penthouse décor

58:58 / Trying to figure out the motivations of the contestants – no tangible grand prize

59:30 / Paris Hilton has no real accomplishments – what’s the motivation for getting to know her?

1:00:28 / JS thinks most of these contestants went in with no illusions – and maybe the hope for a few connections or a good word in the future

1:02:12 / What the show is selling the audience in terms of being Paris’ BFF

1:02:38 / JS mentions that some contestants might have been overconfident and ‘caught up in the moment’

1:03:32 / Wrapping up with how this show could have been better

1:04:08 / Yet another digression into the shoddiness of the post-production

1:04:50 / Mike wishes this focused more on the contestants’ backgrounds; wonders how much the production problems played a role

1:06:05 / Even those outside the Middle East could have had interesting backgrounds

1:06:55 / The ‘story challenge’ gave a quick glimpse into the backgrounds of some of the contestants and gave them a little more depth

1:07:35 / JS wonders if the similar backgrounds of the contestants was a weakness

1:09:03 / We both agree they should have been filled out some more (the press release I mentioned)

1:09:41 / Mike thinks the most interesting thing about these women are their hybrid backgrounds and having to navigate between ‘traditional’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ sides

1:10:50 / The show touches on ‘Americanization’ a bit with Dina, but doesn’t really go into great depth

1:12:40 / We are on Stitcher (please rate us!) and have a website on WordPress (you are already here)

1:13:30 / Introducing next week’s show, Divorce Court: Feel free to email us any particularly good episodes from Seasons 16-18: 42minutesofreality AT gmail DOT com

Episode 1 – America’s Most Smartest Model

 

This week’s discussion: America’s Most Smartest Model, Eps. 1-3.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: The Only Way Is Essex, Season 18, Eps. 1-3.  Watch it on Hulu.

Our very first episode!  We introduce the format and goals of the podcast as well as discussing our previous experiences with reality TV and our preconceptions of it going into the show.  We then get to the meat of the episode where we discuss the show’s humor, product placement, outdated technology, reliance on stereotypes, and gender/body politics.  We also speculate as to why this show failed to be renewed and delve into what makes a reality TV series successful.

Show Notes and Links

1:20 / Introducing our show’s format and goals

3:32 / Our experiences with reality TV and our reality TV touchstones

JS: Survivor (season 1), American Idol (season 5), COPS

Mike: Blind Date, The Jerry Springer Show, Jersey Shore, Mike’s Challenger moment and possible new reality TV show pitch

9:22 / Our preconceptions and stereotypes of reality TV

11:07 / Gender and Reality TV fights

12:23 / Our (not very extensive) experiences with America’s Next Top Model, Mike mentions Tyra Banks’ Oprah rip-off

13:11 / Concept of America’s Most Smartest Model

14:14 / The show’s judges

14:50 / The ‘point’ of the show

15:34 / Questions about the contestant interview process

16:10 / This is not a show about merit

17:00 / Issues with pacing and questions about timescale

18:23 / The show’s body politics

20:53 / Back on topic with discussion of the contestants

26:25 / Stacking the deck on gender and ‘dumb model’ stereotypes

27:37 / Mike’s theory on the dominant ideology of reality TV

28:47 / JS thinks the show is reminiscent of the movie Zoolander

29:20 / Celebrates modeling industry despite poking fun at stereotypes, Product placement

31:13 / Mean-spiritedness of show’s humor, fashion industry; is it a hallmark of reality TV?

33:24 / Mike preferred the meanness being channeled into zany challenges rather than mean comments (He also forgot to mention the commercials they had to film while taking an ice-cold shower, that was funny too)

34:41 / Being put off by some of the show’s gender politics, particularly Mary Alice’s dismissive response to a contestant’s concerns about being approached by male strangers (she’d get pilloried on Twitter if this show aired today) and Ben Stein’s leering

36:03 / They’d have to take the smartphones away if they re-did this show today

37:35 / Reveling in the shittiness of this show’s video post-production quality, Mike mentions the 90’s vintage VH1 show Pop-Up Video

39:20 / The show’s bipolar attitude towards the fashion industry’s relationship to sex, Mike thinks Mary Alice needs to get off her high horse

41:30 / Mike thought that the show’s attempt to change gears and get us to sympathize with the participants in the finale was a failure

42:06 / JS compares the narrative arc of reality TV competition to horror

42:57 / Discussing the finale

44:40 / Mike hadn’t seen a reality TV competition finals with two ‘designated villains’ (admittedly drawing from a limited sample)

45:15 / Who we found (kind of) sympathetic and our difficulties sympathizing with the contestants, Mike mentions the Grand Guignol Theatre

47:13 / Mary Alice’s myopic attitude towards non-modeling interests

51:05 / The Wikipedia page for the show

51:23 / Reality TV as a ‘springboard’ to notoriety

52:43 / The Calvinball-esque quality of the competition element and Mary Alice’s odd “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying” attitude and strange judging criterion

54:31 / Mike has a grander theory about the show; JS is skeptical

55:14 / Discussing why this show was not renewed; JS thinks the lack of fairness in the competition undermined the show’s prospects

57:32 / Would playing it straighter have helped?

57:57 / The ‘Borat’ problem; if the show is successful, it’s harder to replicate because everyone is in on the joke

59:02 / Is the show too gimmicky to sustain itself beyond a season?

1:00:04 / JS thinks celebrating success is an integral part of successful reality TV competition

1:00:51 / Mike thinks the show lost steam because it became more of a ‘regular’ modeling show as it went on, but thought it had fun moments with the creative challenges

1:02:41 / JS thinks the most successful moments were the challenges that forced the contestants to be creative

1:03:50 / The answer to what would make this show succeed: America’s Next Top Model

1:04:30 / The ‘novelty Christmas album’ of reality shows; works best as a one-off

1:05:10 / Why people come back to new seasons of reality TV shows, JS mentions the show Chopped

1:05:55 / This show doesn’t celebrate success, but failure

1:07:13 / Mike liked this show more than JS because he likes watching people fail

1:08:06 / Comparing this show to Top Chef (or more accurately, Mike’s second-hand impression of Top Chef), Trade-offs of focusing on humor v. competition, accessibility vs. sustainability

1:10:01 / Failure can be sustainable, but needs variation

1:10:46 / Mike found some weeks of competition worked better than others on a merit-level, but the bogus competitions sometimes led to entertaining results

1:11:41 / Discussing the humor of the quirks of some of the contestants

1:15:02 / Reality TV humor and ‘creative editing’

1:16:09 / Mike goes on a tangent about Jersey Shore (get used to this)

1:17:10 / JS wraps up with a discussion of gender stereotypes and humor, picks on the poor women and their laughter

1:18:42 / Signing off and announcing next week’s show